If you look among the personalities of people who are inclined to chess you might spot a similarity, most seem to be introverts. But is this really true? or is it just a stereotype that was created by people who do not know how to play chess?
Is there something within the game that favors a particular type of person (whether introvert or extrovert) and rewards them?
Most chess players are introverts since the game requires a lot of internal thought deliberation and chess events have limited interaction with people. Playing a mental game for continuous hours is considered boring for most extroverts.
I will share my thoughts based on my years of experience and some testimonials online, so there’s value here. However I understand that a statistical approach is necessary to completely answer this, but hear me out for a second.
Is chess a game that rewards introverts?
Chess requires a lot of internal pondering and studying outside the presence of other people, something that extroverts find hard to deal with. Due to this, introverts are much more naturally compatible with pursuing chess than extroverts.
Chess is a logical game, it is an activity that naturally attracts introverted people who naturally indulge in a lot of thinking. This does not mean to say that extroverts do not think, but they don’t do it as deeply as introverts do.
Analyzing positions usually involves a long process that finds very small opportunities on the board, a mental-extensive approach.
Someone who has a lot of imagination and self-reflection will find it easier to accomplish the task since they do it most of the time (introverts).
Not to mention that playing continuously over extended periods of time is mentally exhausting enough that it needs some form of endurance.
Introverts usually experience a lot of long extensive thoughts that they are more likely to be interested in and last a game of chess.
Competitive play usually spans six to eight hours on 3-4 games continuously, I doubt a lot of extroverts will be able to take that. One would have to sit on the board doing nothing all day but push wood while waiting to see who can win in the end.
A standard tournament usually doesn’t finish in a day (consecutive days) which is mentally exhausting in its own right.
It would really help if you are someone who is used to thinking all the time (therefore with somewhat adjusted endurance).
Studying as well will be a bit problematic since it involves looking at a chess position for continuous hours looking for small improvements (which is boring for most extroverts).
One will find it hard to study continuous hours for a long time if they are not introverted (who are naturally inclined to the activity).
Are there more introverts in chess than extroverts?
At the very least, 70% of people who play chess can be classified as introverted, most people at the top of the game are introverts like Lagrave, Liren, Ivanchuk, Aronian, Caruana, etc.
From my personal experience, it is very rare for me to found an extrovert who likes to play chess (more like 1 out of 25 people). This is why I say that at least 70% of people who play chess display some qualities that can be recognized as introverted.
It is important to note that just because someone appears to be socially open does not mean they are an extrovert, even introverts could appear that way.
Because appearing as someone that is shy is not tied to being an introvert, an introvert rather is someone who prefers personal company (not necessarily bad with others).
The modern grandmasters at the top of the game are mostly noticeably introverts (Giri, Lagrave, Aronian, Caruana, Ding, etc.).
Some players like Magnus, Radjabov, Nakamura may appear to be extroverted but really are just introverts that are good at handling social situations.
You could actually see some of these so-called extroverted players to have traits of an introvert (being quiet, less spoken, etc.) when they are around others not a camera.
When a group of chess players band together the conversation is usually awkward and only related to chess, there is not anything (socially) and that could be tied to extroverts.
Even if you can argue that they are extroverts it does not change the case that the majority of players in the top 100 are introverts.
This means that on average, the personality that can be recognized as self-reflective does have a certain affinity with chess.
Are there some extroverts who play chess?
Extroverts do play chess casually but usually find it hard to compete at a professional level.
The only real extrovert that has thrived in the game of chess is Mikhail Tal, other famous players that are good socially have some level of introversion (Capablanca, Alekhine, Kasparov, etc.)
Extroverts do play chess, but they rarely excelled nor stick long enough to see results due to the nature of the game. It is something that is more thoughtful, less conversation and more talking with actions on the board.
In fact after a game, it’s rare to have a social connection with your opponent beyond the context of the last played match.
A lot of world champions that can be recognized as extroverted (Fischer, Capablanca, Kasparov, etc.) do have a certain level of introversion, except maybe Tal.
Tal is yes I agree, very extroverted, he likes to party and drinks alcohol with a bunch of several people all day. However, this extroversion is reflected by his playing style (aggressive) which does not show patience for long-term developments.
Chess is played with incremental positional struggle unless an opportunity arises, those who cannot wait and go all-out too soon do not win games (most of the time).
This is why it is speculated that Tal would not survive against modern grandmasters that have superb skills since mistakes are less committed.
The thing is I repeat, social anxiety is not a sign of introversion, even extroverts do have that.
Those that are comfortable to drown within their own thoughts and not communicate with anybody are considered introverts, which can describe someone who is socially-able.
I myself for example am not really socially anxious but prefers being alone and thinking about larger things, but has a solid circle of friends.
However, I can still consider myself an introvert rather than an extrovert since I can tolerate being alone more than being with somebody all the time.
Why do extroverts usually struggle with chess?
Playing chess competitively requires a lot of silence at the events as well as limited interaction with people, such as an environment is bad for extroverts.
Aside from this, studying and playing chess requires a lot of thought process that is more compatible for introverts.
Participating in tournaments requires competitors to be absolutely quiet, letting only the clock make the noise, this is a nightmare for real extroverts.
The focus should be only on the board as to not distract any of the players where talking is extremely prohibited.
A real extrovert would be drained from this silence and will be distracted enough to pay attention to the game. The only one they can talk to for multiple hours is their mind, consulting it for the moves in the position (something that introverts excel at)
These are the signs that someone is an extrovert:
- Enjoys being at the center of attention
- Enjoys group work
- Feels isolated by too much time spent alone
- Likes to communicate by talking
- Likes to talk about thoughts and feelings
- Looks to others and outside sources for ideas and inspiration
- Numerous, broad interests
- Tends to act first before thinking
As you can imagine chess is just naturally occurring on the inside rather than the outside, less talking and more thinking.
Every other aspect mentioned here to be characteristic of an extrovert (looking for ideas from others, tends to act first before thinking, etc.) are all inefficiencies not welcomed in the board.
Chess is an individual game that requires a lot of limited interaction and communication, this is not a teamwork ingredient.
It’s not that extroverts cannot excel, it’s more like introverts have the advantage due to their innate strength.
The nature of chess just works within their favor, there is no adjustment whatsoever to play the game normally.
Extroverts on the other hand require at least some time to get used to this field, which is why introverts dominate the chess population more than extroverts.
Why do chess players on youtube appear extroverted?
Chess Youtubers are forced to be socially likable in order for their channels to grow through repeated practice in front of the camera, this is why they appear to be more extroverted than regular players.
This is a popular misconception that has been shaped by recent chess fan’s interactions with influencers that are promoting the game.
They tend to experience individuals that have already repaired their personality in front of the camera with tons of practice.
What they do not know is the individual’s innate personality before even becoming the influencer they are today. The viewers are not aware of what is the personality of the person before having an online presence, nor if the camera is turned off.
Not everyone after all who lived will only have a single personality type throughout their lives, people can change due to experience and other factors.
It could be that these people initially are introverts but transitioned to the needs of the industry, though it certainly does not constitute the majority of the population.
Most of the people who play chess are not destined to be YouTubers nor bloggers, so most are left with limited social experience.
This can be accurately observed during meetings of people who play the game seriously (the conversations are awkward and there is less talking).
Even charismatic chess influencers such as Hikaru Nakamura and Radjabov being put in a room can be called to be somewhat quiet.
The only exception was perhaps with Magnus who is totally fine with a lot of banters and talking (doesn’t mean he is an extrovert).
He is even considered weird in real life enough to be occasionally accused of being somewhat autistic, which is something notable. It means that even players who appear to be extroverted can display traits that are commonly seen in introverted people.
Do you think chess players are introverted?
I don’t have data or anything to correctly prove this (since it will be hard to do) but I have my experience to rely on. A lot of people that I’ve seen to be really into chess are someone that can play with their inner self (introverted).
The logic just falls right into place, you don’t really talk and look for ideas from other people when playing the game.
It is the opposite, it rewards those that can produce something alone and those that are able to endure the quiet environment of tournaments.
But what do you think? Do you think that chess players are mostly introverts? I just hope this made you think for a while, sleep well and play chess.